Penkala, Alex Mike, born 30-08-1924 in in South Bend, Indiana to Alexander “Alex” Penkala (1882–1963) and his wife Mary, born Kinski Penkala (1888–1928) His mother died after giving birth to another child and Penkala’s sister Irene looked after him and his 12 other siblings. He had two brothers and nine sisters: Angela M. Penkala Sobczyk (1909–1983), Mary Penkala Setlak (1911–1987), Helen E. Penkala Hawblitzel (1912–1972), Matilda V. Penkala Budney (1914–1999), Genevieve A. Penkala Guljas (1915–2000), Edward F. Penkala (1918–1988), Clem J. Penkala (1918–1989), Evelyn A Penkala Tatay (1921–2019), Irene Penkala Lichatowich (1922–2005), Rose L. Penkala Kaczmarczyk (1926–2015) and Gertrude E. Penkela Picking (1927–2001).
He dropped out of high school in 1939 when he was in his sophomore year, and found a job as a cook. He was drafted into the Army on 27–02-1942, at Toledo, Ohio, and volunteered for the paratroopers. He was sent to Camp Toccoa, Georgia, where he was assigned to Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th, of the 101 Airborne Division where he was put under the harsh leadership of Herbert Sobel. In 1970, Sobel shot himself in the head with a small-caliber pistol in an attempted suicide. The bullet entered his left temple, passed behind his eyes, and exited the other side of his head. Both of his optic nerves were severed by the shot, leaving him blind. Soon afterward, he began living at a VA assisted-living facility in Waukegan, Illinois. He died there of malnutrition on 30-09-1987. No memorial services were held for him.
After completing training in August, Mike Penkala was sent to Fort Benning, where he earned his jumpwings as a paratrooper. After completing more training at Camp Mackell in 1943, he and the rest of the unit were sent to Aldbourne, England.
Penkala dropped with the 101st Airborne into Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, part of Operation Overlord. He grouped up with his Company at Ste. Marie-du-Monte. On June 10, he and the 506th headed to Carentan, where they fought a fierce battle for the town. They eventually won with only a few wounded. While relaxing, he, Private Albert Blithe, Sergeant “Skip” Muck, PFC. Donald “Don” Malarkey, and Private More chatted about how 1st Lieutenant Ronald Speirs killed a few Germans on D-Day, before heading out. They met a fierce counterattack by the Germans, but won the fight.
They then headed back to Aldbourne in July, where they waited for their next mission. He and the unit the landed in Holland on September 17, part of Operation Market Garden. They met little resistance when they landed, but were bested at Nuenen on September 20th. The Operation eventually ended on September 25, and the 2nd Battalion was sent to an area known as “The Island” on October 2. They fought against a unit of German SS soldiers, and beat them on October 5.
Death and burial ground of Penkala, Alex Mike Jr.
He and his unit were pulled off the line on November 26, and were sent to France. They were eventually sent to Bastogne in the Ardennes forest, Belgium on December 18 to relieve the 28th Infantry Division under command of Major General Troy Houston Middleton, during the Battle of the Bulge. Sometime around the battle, Penkala was wounded by a Mortar explosion in the arm. Doc Eugen “Doc” Roe
tended to him, but Penkala insisted he didn’t need to go to the aid station. Roe replied, “Well, you’re in luck Penkala, we ain’t got no aid station,” meaning Penkala was still in the fight.
They were eventually sent to the town of Foy. On January 10, 1945 while preparing to invade Foy, they were bombarded by heavy artillery. George Luz was knocked down by an explosion, and Penkala and his buddy Muck yelled at him to get into their foxhole, when they took a direct hit from a shell, blowing him to pieces and killing him instantly. Luz was able to dig up their remains.
Casualities of the 101 Airborne Division during their European campaign: total battle casualties 9.328, killed in action 1.766, wounded in action 6.388, missing in action 207 and prisoner of war 967.
Penkala, Alex Mike Jr. is buried at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial, Hamm, Canton de Luxembourg, Plot I, Row 9, Grave 5.